A few weeks ago, I attended an event at an ELT (Enhanced Language Training) class, where I was able to speak about my experience as an immigrant. The class was a group of highly educated newcomers, and I was very excited to share my enthusiasm about my immigration experience with them.
It felt like everyone was engaged and listening to what I was saying, and there was a high level of energy in the room until I proudly said, “I will always be an immigrant, always!” As soon as I said that, it felt like I had lost the entire class!
As I noticed the confusion expressed on their faces, one of them asked, “How can you claim that you will always be an immigrant when moving into a new country means becoming a significant part of it?”
That question shook me! I had no idea what to say!
I was attempting to encourage them by sharing my experience as an immigrant, but I was speaking from my own level of understanding, forgetting about their actual state of mind in this phase of their lives. I had somehow forgotten about the feelings and thoughts that I had experienced just sixteen years ago, when I was in the exact same position as them.
How could I forget the mental picture I had of myself as an immigrant sixteen years ago?
Now, it was easy for me to claim something so apparently profane for them. Before personally experiencing immigration, almost all of us perceive the word as synonymous with separation, segregation, loneliness, awkwardness, inferiority, struggle, and poverty. Immigrants want to remove this label as soon as possible.
We want to feel good about ourselves, so we start anxiously integrating ourselves into the new reality; many of us think that rushing to sign up for advanced language courses, relentlessly seeking a good job, buying a nice home, and living a life that is normal will make us feel accepted into the new culture.
This is the painful, dangerous and difficult way to become an integrated member of the new country. Can you imagine going to school to learn a new language with the level of confidence of someone with low self-esteem? Can you imagine going to an important job interview feeling awkward and out of place? Every action taken will require a lot of energy, you will be dragging yourself to the interview or class with a negative attitude and slim chance of success.
Now let’s reverse the process!
Instead of trying to remove the “immigrant” label, let’s change the perception of the word “immigrant.”
Imagine going to an important job interview with the awareness of being THIS kind of immigrant:
- Someone that had the courage to leave poverty or war.
- A brave father that left to save his family.
- A resilient woman that left a life of violence behind.
- A strong-minded individual that wants to change the world.
- A confident young entrepreneur with a big dream.
- Many other souls with a variety of powerful stories.
This is what I see in my mind when I say or hear the word “immigrant”, and I feel a sense of belonging to this powerful community.
That’s why I will forever claim, “I am an immigrant.” It empowers me, and it will empower you if you are able to change the perception of the word in your mind.
Be aware, my dear immigrant friend, that you are no ordinary being, you are already special, just making the decision to immigrate makes you so; and if you embrace the experience, “magnificent” will be your label.
You will never be a fully integrated citizen until you build up your immigrant self image to the point where you’ll always feel good about saying: “I will always be an immigrant!”
I will always be happy to clarify and re-evaluate the concepts shared in my articles; my ideas are not meant to be a doctrine; the intention is simply to provoke constructive thinking.